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Counterpunch

When It Comes to Harassment, Paglia Cannot Speak for Us

November 14, 1994|TAMMY BRUCE | Tammy Bruce is president of the L . A . chapter of the National Organization for Women and a weekend talk-show host on KFI-AM (640). and

To run a commentary by Camille Paglia on David Mamet and his film "Oleanna," in particular, is about as absurd as asking Bob Packwood to write a commentary on Clarence Thomas ("The Real Lesson of 'Oleanna,' " Calendar, Nov. 6).

Getting a clear picture of how sexual harassment is being dealt with in film must not have been Calendar's goal. Usually, misogynists relate to each other. Paglia's appreciation of Mamet's work in general, and her commiserating about the reaction to his work, is typical. Paglia can and does relate to Mamet, as she epitomizes the level of success our culture affords to women who sell out.

More surprising was Calendar's characterization of Paglia's commentary as a treatise showing the limits of "victim-centered feminism." This astonishingly reveals an agenda to dismiss and degenerate the power women achieve when taking control in their own lives by recognizing and stopping the actual victimization--the harassment itself.

Neither Calendar nor Paglia will succeed in stigmatizing the act of saying "no" into some kind of pseudo victimization. Regardless of the Establishment's panic on this issue, women and men have learned far too much about sexual harassment to be swayed by irresponsible journalism.

If your editors feel it in their hearts to devote a page and a half to seriously looking at the sexual harassment issue in film, they should forgo using misogynists as their mouthpieces.

Try looking at this startling reality: In the years since the revelations of the Thomas-Hill hearings, only two films have dealt with the issue of sexual harassment: Mamet's "Oleanna" and, soon, Michael Crichton's "Disclosure." One positions a woman as "asking for it" and the other makes the woman the sexual-harassing predator.

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These films, in not reflecting the reality of sexual harassment at all, are not relying on dramatic license but on a direct agenda. They seem to be hoping to attract an audience of Mamets and Paglias--misogynists who will enjoy something simply because it artificially reinforces their suspicion of women and their rejection of the devastating effects that sexual harassment have on women.

Because they are the only ones dealing with the sexual harassment issue, the danger these kinds of films pose is they have a window of opportunity to shape the debate. Unfortunately, it's clear that the agenda of the filmmakers and studios in choosing these works is not to deal with the reality of sexual harassment, but in fact to deny its existence.

It also directly reminds us that there are still not enough women at the top making these decisions. And the few that have broken through the glass ceiling have so few women as peers that they themselves begin to make decisions by the men's rules.

In her commentary, Paglia "sympathizes" with Mamet's "outrage" after having been confronted by angry students at Brown University after a preview of "Oleanna." Paglia then relates an instance when she too was confronted by students at the same university after one of her lectures. She dismissed the protesters as "infantile and irrational."

Reality commands that Paglia know that she is in fact extremely well understood and being rejected. Now she should take the hint and accept the fact that women who hate women are passe and whether it be book buyers, students or filmgoers, we will issue a resounding no to you, the Mamets and the Crichtons of the world.

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